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Plus Size Perspectives: Boutique Shopping Versus Online Shopping

multicolored bras

I've been really quiet on social media this month mostly because I've spent it either working or traveling, to the point where I wrote my column a few weeks ago on a train coming back from another city! I was lucky enough to stop off in my favorite city on earth, New Orleans, and to get to check out a few of the lingerie boutiques there. I can't ever resist wandering through tiny lingerie boutiques hoping to find a gem, so I ended up stopping at a bunch even though I was pressed for time.

Cora and I wrote a piece ages ago on why we prefer to buy lingerie online and I was reminded of it after trying out various boutiques this month. I also had a fairly startling realization: being a blogger and working from home really means I've had a fundamentally different experience than many plus size women. I almost never shop real stores, and when I do, it's frequently from brands who know who I am and who are obviously into embracing a range of sizes. Wandering through a random selection of lingerie stores gave me a whole new perspective on how horrible shopping can be in person.

While my shopping experiences ranged from "meh" to "actively horrible," the most unbelievable encounter I had was with a shop owner who assured me that a beautiful vintage garter belt was "a very large size." When I asked her to measure (because, you know, I have eyes) she assured me it measured a whopping 27 inches in the waist! I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin, but even I had trouble at not feeling a little bit insulted by this. Needless to say, I politely left without buying anything.

I'd hate for this to come across as a piece on why I hate independent lingerie boutiques. I honestly love them and I buy from them online all the time. I'd buy from them in person if I could find any I loved as much as my favorite online places. However, the customer service experience online has gotten better and better in recent years, and boutiques haven't always kept up. After mulling over my boutique experiences in my head, here are some suggestions that would be good for lots of boutiques and their potential customers to take into account.

Drawers full of sexy lingerie

To create a fabulous customer experience:

  • Be honest! I visited a dress boutique the same weekend that earned my loyalty when the sales assistant cheerfully informed me that the dress I had tried on looked like a maternity gown on me. She promptly assured me that it was the wrong cut for me instead of an issue with my body and then handed me a dress that fit like a glove and made me feel like a princess. I will shop with them again and again not just for the merchandise, but because they valued honesty over making a quick sale.
  • Let people know if you don't carry their size and be willing to make alternative suggestions. Not every boutique can cater to every customer, but good boutiques are willing to admit that they specialize and also generally have great recommendations for customers who don't suit their merchandise. If you point someone in the direction of the perfect place for them, they'll still tell all of their friends how great you are. Word of mouth advertising is the best advertising.

For potential boutique customers:

  • Don't give your money to rude or indifferent boutiques. Cora and I talked about this in our previous article --- once you're in a boutique, the pressure to buy is extremely real. If you're a nice person, you'll want to buy a pair of panties or something to help compensate a great salesperson for their time even if you don't find anything perfect. While I completely support this when salespeople work hard and are lovely, I think it also can lead to bad feelings if you walk away without buying. If someone is rude to you or won't give you the time of day, they don't deserve your money. If they make nasty comments about your size, no matter what size you are, don't give them your money.
  • Give feedback to boutiques you love or buy from frequently. Lots of great boutique owners are looking for feedback on what products they can bring in to create more sales, so don't hesitate to tell them in person or on social media. If you're a repeat customer, your word will carry extra weight. It can be costly for small boutiques to expand their offerings, so help them do it in a profitable way by giving feedback when they ask for it.

Holly Jackson

The Full Figured Chest provides creative and elegant copywriting for the high end lingerie industry.

5 Comments on this post

  1. Mimi says:

    Ach, I had a dreadful experience at Ambience, a vintage-style clothing store in San Francisco. I tried on a skirt, marked Large (just L, not P/L), that I couldn’t even pull up past my hips. When I suggested to the shop clerk that perhaps it was mislabeled, she snorted at me—SNORTED!!—”Tsk, Uch! EVERYBODY knows the difference between petite large and BIG large!” To which I replied—not to her, but to the proprietess—”I suggest you find yourself a shopgirl that isn’t size-ist—you just lost a $100 sale because of her.” I then turned, let the skirt fall from my hand to the floor, and stepped on it as I gracefully exited the store.

    On a happy note: one of my all-time favorite independent boutiques is Oakland’s À La Folie ( They specialize in both petite and full-figure/large sizes, and totally get that no, I don’t want to *reduce* my ample bosom, I want to show it off—push it up, even! They take special orders, too—I spotted one that was a gorgeous, lacy M-cup. Cheryl and her staff are really sweet, and don’t hard-sell in the least. They carry a full line of Primadonna, Huit *, and the like. I adore ’em.

  2. Kirsty says:

    I agree with Roseanne. Shopping in a boutique is about more than what the shop sells. It is about the service, the knowledge, as well as fit and feel of a garment. As Holly pointed out so nicely, boutique owners are usually the member of staff you speak to and honesty should come as standard. It’s their business that suffers from poor service.
    Feedback is always very very much appreciated

  3. Holly says:

    Roseanne –
    Thanks for commenting! I’m absolutely a fan of brick and mortar boutiques and I actually buy from quite a few of them (admittedly from a longish distance). I think a great boutique does create an experience that can’t be replicated and I would love to see every boutique create that kind of connection with their customers.

  4. Rachel says:

    I totally agree with your first point about creating a great customer service experience.
    Although not lingerie specific, just yesterday I was in a vintage shop in Glasgow for the first time and I’ll be a customer forever! The shop owner was amazing and so attentive, she took one look at me when I walked in, guessed my size and what kind of styles would suit my figure. She gave me nearly a dozen dresses to try on and was completely honest with what worked and didn’t, even offering to alter items if I needed it. Most importantly, she didn’t pressure me into buying anything.
    It was definitely an experience a lot of shops should try and emulate!
    Great article.

  5. Hi Holly,
    I was actually holding my breath as I read this as I thought it was going to be totally negative toward independent lingerie boutiques. As it turned out I see it as more of a lesson to boutique owners to pull themselves together and consider the consumers shopping experience a little more.
    As a small lingerie boutique owner of some 18 years I totally understand how you can become tired and tetchy during the working day but this does not ever have to be passed on to your customer they have entered your store to experience your wonderful merchandise and feel good about themselves not encounter a grumpy face!
    I am in the process of expanding my own website to offer some items online but my own view is I want to meet my customer give her the experience of a fitting and let her feel the product and totally understand why one bra may be more expensive than another and why one shape works for her but another does not. This is all quite difficult to experience online and of course feeling the beautiful fabric is a bonus in store too.
    Returns policy is always a difficult issue with small stores and is one of my concerns about selling online. I believe that if I have offered a full fitting service the bra would not need to be returned unless it was faulty after all you wouldn’t wear a pair of shoes for a few hours then expect to be able to return them for a refund.
    Feedback is very important to small boutiques we need to know what the customer wants and although we cannot possibly stock everything most of us will try to acquire specific items for our customers. So I would suggest that you try out your local store if you have them and talk to the owner and establish the relationship that can only be beneficial to you both in the long term.
    Thank you for a very interesting article
    Rosanne x

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